Catch the Current
From Watergate to the Pearly Gates: Remembering Chuck Colson
A Renaissance Man: Colson's Impact and Influence
Chuck Colson was a bit of an evangelical renaissance man. The work of the second half of his life included scholarship, authoring books, writing columns, radio commentary, advocacy, prison reform, apologetics, diplomacy, ecumenism, presidential policy advising, and more. His life modeled a magnanimous religious leader's capacity for breadth of interest and depth of influence. Although coming years will certainly reveal more of his lasting impact, already his influence has been felt in these seven areas:
A Watergate Miracle. Amidst the unraveling of the Nixon administration, one of the toughest characters in Washington became the focus of God's all-consuming grace. While an administration was falling apart, at least one soul was finding his way home. It was a bright story in one of the darkest periods of recent American history.
Reforming Prisoners and Prisons. When Colson entered prison on the first day of his sentence, little did he know just how many more times he would be entering other prisons for the first time. In fact, he would spend the rest of his life reaching prisoners with the Gospel and seeking to reform prison conditions for the sake of Christ. PF currently operates in 1,300 correctional facilities and works with over 7,000 churches in the United States.
Reclaiming a Christian Worldview. Colson's efforts to reach and reform prisoners for Christ led him to realize something vital that needed to be recovered in society: an authentically Christian worldview. In his book, How Now Shall We Live?, Colson wrote about the priority and the process of developing a truly Christian worldview.
An Advocate for the Church. In his 1993 Book, The Body, Colson effectively reemphasized the vital role of the Christian faith community in living as "light" in a culture teeming with "darkness."
A Practical Theologian. One of Colson's earliest books, Loving God (1983), revealed his penchant for reading and understanding Biblical theology and for finding ways to explain its practical dimensions. This book became a bit of an evangelical manifesto for service to mankind.
Engaging the Catholic-Evangelical Dialog. In 2009, Colson was a principal participant behind the Manhattan Declaration, an ecumenical statement calling on evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians to resist rules and laws permitting abortion, same-sex marriage and other matters that conflict with religious conscience. Colson also co-wrote a common ground initiative with conservative Roman Catholics in the mid-90s called Evangelicals and Catholics Together.
Avoiding Politics While Affecting Policy. During the last decade of Colson's life, God brought him full circle. He returned to the White House on several occasions, this time not as an intimidating political advisor to President Nixon but as an advocating policy advisor to President George W. Bush.
In a recent interview with Christianity Today, Bush advisor Karl Rove said of Colson, "He was more concerned about the policy. What could be done to broaden the role of faith-based institutions in the public square? What efforts was the president willing to make, whether it was children of prisoners or to help ensure faith-based groups had a bigger role in anti-recidivism efforts. His attitude was, 'You have bright, young people involved in the politics. Can I talk to you about substantive questions of policy?'"
Colson's influence on the forty-third president and its ongoing impact is still felt around the world today. On October 26, 2003, the lead story in The New York Times was headlined, "Evangelicals Sway White House on Human Rights Issues Abroad." Colson was the first person mentioned in the article that reported how he and others were responsible for a new set of initiatives from the Bush Administration. As a result of Colson's efforts, new and sweeping initiatives were being put in place towards ending the war in Sudan, halting sex trafficking and preventing the global spread of AIDS.
Colson contributed in several other arenas, as well, including seminary education. Dr. Robert Cooley, President-Emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological seminary, says the following: "Chuck Colson was very concerned that young theologians would leave seminary with a well-developed Christian worldview and an understanding that a Christian apologetic was essential to minister in a post-Christian world. Chuck was on the board of trustees and his influence was felt throughout the entire institution. His powerful voice will be missed in the public square and in so many organizations in which he was invited to serve. His legacy will be the changed lives of so many who had the privilege to read and listen to his prophetic voice."
After a long and rich life, a life of great sin, great redemption and great service, may he rest in peace.
Robert Crosby is an author and Professor of Practical Theology at Southeastern University. Read his interview with Bobby Gruenewald, the Founder of YouVersion.com (the Bible App) and related articles at Christianity Today—The New Engagers and The Social Network Gospel.
Robert Crosby is the author of the new book, The Teaming Church: Ministry in the Age of Collaboration (Abingdon Press). Crosby's column, "Catch the Current," is published every other Tuesday on the Evangelical portal. Subscribe via email or RSS.